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By Lorraine Sanders
When Diamond Street resident David Bernstein heard about the possible elimination of the 35-Eureka Muni bus line, which connects Noe Valley and Diamond Heights to the Castro and Cole Valley, he did something very uncharacteristic: he went to his computer, typed up a petition, and began going door-to-door along his street asking for signatures.
Bernstein, who describes himself as an "accidental activist" who's not "all that out-going," had neither created nor circulated a petition before. But the thought of losing the bus line, which he rides occasionally and his partner uses daily on his route to work, sent him into action.
"The topography here makes the alternatives challenging for healthy, fit people and impossible for those who are not," he said.
As it turned out, he wasn't the only one concerned.
In just two days, he had collected 80 signatures, many of them from elderly and student riders. That may not sound like a large number, but it was enough to capture the attention of District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty.
"I am 100 percent clear that the changes don't make sense for the neighborhood, and they don't make sense for the riders of Muni," said Dufty, who added that he had received at least 120 calls to his direct phone line from residents concerned about proposed changes to the 35-Eureka line released earlier this year as part of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP).
The TEP, an initiative of both Muni and the city controller's office, marks the first comprehensive review of San Francisco's bus lines in 25 years. The goal is to study the entire system to find ways to improve performance, increase ridership, and, of course, cut costs. In its preliminary proposal, the TEP suggested changes to several Muni routes that run through Noe Valley. Among the recommendations are proposals to extend the J-Church to San Francisco State University, reroute the 24-Divisadero bus along 24th Street, and eliminate the 35-Eureka along Diamond, Addison, and Farnum streets.
As part of an ongoing series of community meetings to share its proposals and solicit feedback from residents, the TEP held a meeting on May 10 at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy.
"There was a lot of neighborhood opposition to the changes. I think [TEP representatives] were a little surprised, but that's why they had the meeting," said Bernstein, who attended.
Steep Hills a Problem
In many ways, the planners' surprise is, well, not surprising. When compared with other bus lines in the city, the 35-Eureka has relatively low ridership. About 700 riders board the 35 each day, according to Muni data. Should the line be eliminated, Diamond Street residents would have to walk no more than four blocks to access another bus line. But what TEP researchers and consultants failed to take into account, it seems, were the hills.
When Bernstein looked at a map of the neighborhood on Google Earth, which includes satellite images, he was able to determine that eliminating the 35-Eureka would leave people on his block between 28th and Duncan streets two options. The first would be catching the 24-Divisadero at Castro and 26th streets (assuming its present route is retained), which would require a four-block walk with a 150-foot change in elevation. The second alternative would mean walking a shorter distance--just two blocks--to catch the 52-Excelsior at Diamond Heights Boulevard and Duncan streets, but it would require an uphill climb of at least 175 feet.
As Bernstein's petition notes, "The city police academy frequently trains recruits up that hill, and they don't have an easy time of it."
Instead of reducing service along the 35-Eureka line, Bernstein thinks the city should expand it.
"Lots of people here really depend on that line. If they were to extend the 35 over to the Glen Park BART, I think that would help [ridership].... It would make it easier for people to get to SFO and down to jobs on the Peninsula," he suggested.
Trolley Wires on 24th Street?
Residents who attended the May 10 meeting were also concerned about proposed changes to the 24-Divisadero, which has an average of 10,700 people boarding a day.
"It would be a disaster to have the 24 go through our merchant district. It's already chaotic enough!" said Gwen Sanderson, co-president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association and co-owner of Video Wave.
But Sanderson was even more exercised about the TEP's approach to Muni in general.
"My feedback on the card provided at the meeting was that they cannot look at how many people ride, for example, the 35 and then say, 'Well, there is not enough ridership.' They have to provide world-class transit, so that folks can rely on convenient transit and happily put away their cars.... As you move away from downtown, the transit options get more and more sparse. So why would someone in the avenues give up their car for infrequent transit options? They need to provide more options, not less," she said.
Concern brought her to the meeting, but Sanderson left feeling somewhat relieved. "They seemed very open to all the comments," she said.
For Debra Niemann, executive director of the Noe Valley Association, the prospect of running the 24-Divisadero along 24th Street was a less troubling matter than how the city might choose to implement the plan. Rerouting the bus line, according to TEP documents, would involve adding trolley wires along 24th Street.
"If you just come in and put in overhead wires, it's going to look terrible. But how do you create a better street, how do you create a better pedestrian environment that also handles street traffic?" Niemann asked.
Niemann would prefer any changes along 24th Street to involve collaboration with the Better Streets San Francisco initiative, which is bringing many agencies together to work toward creating better pedestrian environments.
Whatever you think of the TEP's proposed changes, which are available for public viewing online, don't expect to see anything happen until at least July 2009.
The SFMTA's Judson True said his agency was asking residents to submit their comments online, in writing, or by telephone before June 15.
"After that, we'll start to work on revising draft proposals further. We expect to present revised recommendations to the SFMTA in late summer, and we will, of course, release those revised recommendations [to the public]," True told the Voice in late May.
For more information about the Transit Effectiveness Project's proposed changes to Muni lines, visit www.sftep.com or call the 311 Customer Service Center. Public comments may be submitted online, by phone using 311, by fax (415-701-4372), by e-mail to email@example.com, or by regular mail, to Julie Kirschbaum, TEP Project Manager, SFMTA, One South Van Ness Avenue, Seventh Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103.